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Robbie Keane and Olympic heroes honoured as People of the Year

The list also includes some extraordinary acts of heroism.

SPORTSPEOPLE WHO LIT up our lives in 2016 were among the winners of Rehab People of the Year awards this evening.

2016 Rio Paralympic Games - Day Two Jason Smyth crossing the line in the Men's 100m. Source: Adam Davy via PA Wire/PA Images

The ten Paralympic medallists who brought pride and glory to the country with their Rio feats were on stage to accept a joint award. These included the world-class 100-metre champ Jason Smyth as well as gold medal-winning quartet of runner Michael McKillop, cyclist Eoghan Clifford and tandem team Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal. Cyclist Colin Lynch, swimmer Ellen Keane and ‘Rebel Treble’ discus stars Orla Barry, Niamh McCarthy and Noelle Lenihan rounded out the medal-winning athletes.

The fantastic success of silver medallist sailor Annalise Murphy – Ireland’s first Olympic medal in sailing in over 35 years – saw her take Sports Person of the Year in a joint award with fellow silver-medallists rowing brothers Paul and Gary O’Donovan.

Annalise Murphy arrival - Dublin Airport Annalise Murphy with her grandmother Betty. Source: Brian Lawless via PA Wire/PA Images

Murphy said last night that she was delighted to have helped put sailing on the map in Ireland: “I’ve noticed a spike in the amount of people giving it a go.”

Gary O’Donovan said he and brother Paul would continue to rise to new challenges and, as is his style, added to the gaiety of the nation with the remark: “We’ll keep doing our thing, keep enjoying Nana’s cooking and hopefully we’ll keep winning medals.”

Robbie Keane File Photo Robbie Keane scored 68 goals for the Republic of Ireland in his international career. Source: Brian Lawless via PA Wire/PA Images

International football star Robbie Keane was given the International Person of the Year award for, said the judges, “his inspirational service, leadership and passion” in the game. He said:

I have always worn the green jersey with pride and I will always be grateful for the opportunities to play for and captain the International Team. It has been the highlight of my career. It is a privilege for me and my family to receive this award.

Some rather more difficult events in 2016 were remembered at tonight’s ceremony – and the extraordinary feats of bravery carried out by ordinary people at the centre of them.

Davitt Walsh received an award for the quite unbelievable display of courage on the Sunday evening in March when a car carrying a family slipped off the pier in Buncrana, Donegal. He immediately swam to the car which had drifted some 30 metres out. Asked by 49-year-old Sean McGrotty to “save the baby”, Davitt battled to get four-month-old Rioghnach-Ann McGrotty to safety before the car went under the water. Sean, his sons Mark, 12, and Evan, 8; the children’s grandmother Ruth Daniels, 57, and their aunt Jodie-Lee, 14, all died in the tragedy.

24/3/2016. Buncrana Drownings. Two women look out Davitt Walsh jumped into the cold waters of Lough Swilling at this pier in Buncrana and saved a baby girl. Source: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Remembering that day, Davitt said:

The only time I feared for my safety was on my way back from the car because I thought I wasn’t going to make it back to shore. I was physically exhausted, I was struggling and I actually feared for the baby’s life more than my own. I really wanted to get her back to shore.

Heroism in another crisis was lauded last night when Alan Herdman, 24, was awarded a Young Person of the Year trophy for saving the lives of eight children in Rusheen Bay, Galway. He saw them struggling in the sea and rushed out on his paddle board, immediately pulling two children on to it who were in danger of going under. After getting them to shore, he returned to rescue three more – and the final three children were brought to safety with the help of his colleague Neil Gibson.

The long-term contributions of organisations and individuals to helping the most vulnerable in Irish society were also recognised at the ceremony in the Citywest hotel.

Ireland's financial woes Brother Kevin Crowley at work assembling food parcels at the Capuchin Day Centre. Source: Niall Carson via PA Archive/PA Images

Brother Kevin Crowley was given awarded for his incredible work in setting up and running the Capuchin Day Centre, which has been providing hot meals, food parcels and other services to homeless people and those who are struggling to survive. Last year, for example, 8,000 children were served meals in the centre. Br Crowley – who set up the Centre in 1969 – said:

To me in this day and age it is absolutely appalling to think that people have to queue up here for baby food and for nappies. I hope I can continue as long as I can to make sure that our homeless people and the people in need will be served with dignity and with respect.

The charity which supports male victims of domestic abuse and highlights their plight, AMEN, has been in operation for nearly two decades. It also runs an incredibly busy helpline and is considered a lifeline for men facing a situation that has little recognition on a national scale, and very few dedicated services.

Parents Róisín and Mark Molloy were also honoured for their brave campaign this year in highlighting inadequate standards in maternity services in Ireland. More than 80 families are getting reviews into the care they received following extensive research, meeting and endless patience and determination by the Molloys to establish the true circumstances of their baby son Mark’s death at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.

4/2/2014 Babies Deaths in Portlaoise Mark and Róisín Molloy seeking Oireachtas committee support in 2014 for a HIQA inquiry into baby Mark's death in 2012. Source: Laura Hutton via RollingNews.ie

Since their efforts, highlighted on an RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme, the country’s first-ever Perinatal Bereavement Standards were launched and the report into Mark’s death led to other new measures, including a national patient advocacy service.

The youngest person on the night to receive an award was 11-year-old Milo McCarthy who raised nearly €18,000 for Syrian refugees by busking on the streets of Cork – his efforts were brought to attention on the Late Late Show and spread awareness of the Syrian situation as well as raising funds for the Red Cross.

Rounding off the feelgood moments of the year were John Muldoon and Pat Lam, awarded for leading Connacht rugby team to its first trophy in 131 years.

“With nominations coming from the people of Ireland, these truly are the ‘People’s Awards’ and reflect all that is good about our society,” said CEO of Rehab Group, Mo Flynn.

This joyous pic from Rio shows two of our champs celebrating their wins together>

Why did it take a Prime Time programme to highlight the problems at Portlaoise maternity unit?>

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